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From its beginnings to the mid 1800s, the "feathery" golf ball was used. This was made from leather in three pieces (two disks and a rectangular strip) stuffed with "one Top-Hat full of fine feathers"!
Perhaps because it was easy to damage these balls and they were hand made and expensive, golfers mainly used wooden clubs (easier on the ball), though iron headed clubs were used to get the ball out of cart ruts. The shafts of all these clubs were made out of local European woods like Ash. The heads of the wooden clubs were long and thin, and they were known for this reason as "long-nose woods". Another reason for their prevalence may have been their relative ease of manufacture.
The first big change came with the "gutty" ball around 1850. This was made from a solid molded rubber called gutta-percha. It was much stronger than the feathery, and a range of iron clubs were introduced, as they gave the golfer better control over the ball and the ability to hit it out of difficult lies. The introduction of golf into America in the early 1800s lead to hickory wood being used in the shafts of the clubs. This was found to be far more durable than other woods and it became standard until steel shafts were introduced in about 1925.
The next revolution in ball design came around 1905 with the patented "Haskell" ball, which is a composite of a solid core wound with thin strips of rubber. Some modern balls (the expensive ones) are made this way today. This ball performed much better than the gutty and could be made cheaply compared to earlier balls.
The surface shape of the ball was also an area of considerable experimentation. Early gutty balls were smooth. Users found that they flew further once they had developed nicks and cuts from play. They started to pre-score their golf balls to achieve this effect. It didn't take the manufacturers long to apply patented surface shapings to the balls.
Initially these surface moldings took the form of grooves and later bumps. The "bump" design was known as the bramble pattern, probably due to a resemblance to the blackberry. Around 1910, balls with small dimples were devised. These flew further than the bramble pattern balls. Initially the dimples were square but the golf ball makers found that round dimples in the ball surface made it fly even further and this has been the standard since about 1920.
Along with this ball, club makers found that you could get better backspin and better distance if you put grooves on the club face. Some of the early grooved clubs had very wide deep grooves. These were deemed to give the player an unfair advantage and the width of grooves has now been strictly limited.
Golf, as we know it, was first played with a leather-covered ball stuffed with goose or chicken feathers. Several pieces of stout leather were tightly stitched, leaving a small opening. The casing was turned inside out. Feathers - a "gentlemanís top hat full" by measure - that had been boiled and softened, were tediously stuffed into the casing before the final stitches were made. The surprisingly hard feather ball was hammered into roundness and finally coated with several layers of "paint". Because of the difficulty and time involved in making Featheries, they were relatively expensive. This fragile missile was used for almost four centuries.
The first "Gutta" ball is believed to have been made in 1848 by the Rev. Dr. Robert Adams Paterson from gutta-percha packing material. Gutta-percha is the evaporated milky juice or latex produced from a tree most commonly found in Malaysia. It is hard and non-brittle and becomes soft and impressible at the temperature of boiling water. Gutta balls, were handmade by rolling the softened material on a board. The new durability of the Gutta, together with its much lower cost, resistance to water, and improved run, provided rejuvenation to the game of golf. Not without some resistance from traditionalists, the Gutta gradually replaced the Feathery.